This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.
At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland Ballroom, The Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.
The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.
During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.
So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.
Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)
Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)
David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)
Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)
Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)
John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)
Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)
Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)
Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)
Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)
Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)
Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)
U2/In God’s County (1987)
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube
5 thoughts on “The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test”
Another weird blogger synchronicity thing. The Old Grey Whistle test makes an appearance in my fourth Kinks post later next week.
I had literally not a clue about this TV show until this morning. Searching YouTube reveals pretty cool stuff, especially during the 70s!
I’d heard of it. It’s actually fairly well-known, as much as some of the others you mentioned. I didn’t go looking for a clip of the Kinks there per se. But when I found it, even though it wasn’t as high quality as the record, I wanted to use it. I just liked the energy. I always also like to show that good bands get out of the studio and kick it out on stage.
Couldn’t agree with you more! Studio is one thing and it certainly takes skill to produce a truly extraordinary album; performing on stage and proving you can actually deliver what you recorded is another!
In fact, I think it’s quite okay if a song live doesn’t exactly sound like the studio version; in a way it would even be boring, since you might as well save the money you spend on the ticket and listen to the album at home!
Live performances should be about spontaneity and energy, and extending instrumental solos, or throwing in a few additional ones. And of course being with people who enjoy the music just as much as you do. That’s what makes rock & roll truly fun.
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